4. San Francisco
The Best Iconic Thing - Alcatraz
Other than the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz is by far the most touristy thing to do in SF, but it’s the one most worth a visit. A short ferry ride (during which there are great views of the aforementioned bridge) takes visitors to the small island that was once a lighthouse, heavily fortified military site, federal penitentiary, and site of an occupancy by Native American activists. The Cellhouse audio tour that includes stories from former inmates and correctional officers is a must and the 45-minute guided tour that that explores the less traveled areas is also worthwhile. On both tours, you’ll see artifacts, including dummy heads used by prisoners trying to escape, handmade files, shackles, and graffiti from the American Indians who seized the island in 1969.
The Best Free Thing - The Japanese Tea Garden
There’s a lot to do in Golden Gate Park, but the one thing that’s not to be skipped is the Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest public Japanese garden in the U.S. and one of SF’s most popular attractions. It’s also one of the most tranquil spots in the city if you get there before all of the tourists, which works out well since that’s also when it’s free (before 10am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). The garden is just five acres, but it’s easy to find solitude amongst the winding stepping stone paths, pagodas, and koi ponds. No visit is complete with going over the steep Drum Bridge, which reveals a full circle over still water, and forces those climbing it to slow down.
The Best Under-the-Radar Thing - The Self-Guided Art Walk in the Presidio
The Presidio was home to native peoples, a Spanish and then Mexican military fort, and, from 1846 to 1994, a U.S. Army post. Today, it’s a national park that comprises almost five percent of San Francisco and is home to four installations by world-renowned site-specific artist Andy Goldsworthy. There’s a 100-foot “Spire” constructed with 37 aging Monterey cypress trees, a 1,200-foot-long “Wood Line” made of eucalyptus branches (that will one day fade back into the earth), an “Earth Wall” composed of eucalyptus branches and clay, and a “Tree Fall” created by a tree branch suspended from the roof of a Civil War-era building that’s been covered in clay. A three-mile loop along the Presidio’s trails will take you to all of them. And ensure you get in all of your steps. - Daisy Barringer
Check out our full list of the best things to do in San Francisco here.